>There’s A Method To The Madness: Gibbons’ Vetoes


On June 15, 2007, Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons sent AB 396 back to the 74th session of the Nevada Legislature with his veto message. The bill was simple enough, it revised the provisions governing restrictions on the use of solar or wind energy systems by “common interest communities,” and made changes to regulations regarding conflicts of interest, and the exercise of voting rights. The Governor admitted in message that there were some good policies included in the measure, but he vetoed it because it might have “unintended and unanticipated impacts…including the possibility of increased assessments and the possibility of dramatic changes to common areas without an opportunity for homeowners to participate.”  In short, even the possibility, however remote, of a board increasing assessments was too much for the Governor to bear. This augured future vetoes.

The Governor launched his 75th Session Veto Season with his message attached to AB 122. The bill would have allowed more Nevada citizens to avail themselves, if the need arose, of the services of the Office for Consumer Health Assistance. First, he noted that the Office for Consumer Health Assistance had been eliminated in his budget, and then he went on to explain (including his notion that there were parts of AB 396 in the last session of value) that while the idea was good, the office “is not an essential governmental service that the State of Nevada can afford to fund in these tough economic times.  Just as he had vetoed a measure intended to make institutions more accountable in his objections to AB 396, he allowed health care providers to be less accountable in the veto of AB 122 in the subsequent session.

The Governor cried “limited time and resources” again when he vetoed AB 257. No one would be held to answer for wholesale swiping of free publications because, the Governor said, the police have better things to do. Left unanswered, of course, was the impact of his No New Taxes pledge on the capacity of local law enforcement agencies to carry out their tasks at all. No accountability, no money, but that’s all right if there are no new taxes?

The veto of AB 480 which would have enacted new fees collected by the State Engineer for water and water appropriation continued the pattern. “Simply put, adding and increasing these fees during tough economic times just does not make economic sense.” 

The most egregious of the Governor’s vetoes came attached to SB 201, which would have placed into law the will of the Washoe County voters who voted for funding the Regional Transportation Commission’s projects to reduce traffic congestion, improve air quality, and repair and maintain roads in the Reno area. Evidently, no matter what local voters might want – the Governor will not sign any measure calling for any increase in revenue, even if the voters themselves approve it. The Governor all but called the citizens of Washoe County stupid, asserting that they couldn’t figure out that the funding would come from increased fuel taxation.

There are two patterns emerging from this summary. First, even the possibility of a tax or assessment increase is loathesome to the Governor. Secondly, whenever the needs of the empowered (water companies, health care corporations, etc.) are at odds with the needs of average citizens, the empowered will get the benefit of the Governor’s Veto Pen, and the average resident of the state will have to make do.

The pattern continued with the veto of AB 119. The powerful (private water and development corporations) might have been made more accountable had the Regional Planning Commission in the Truckee Meadows been required to take the availability of water resources into consideration. While the Governor wasn’t willing to allow local taxpayers to increase their taxes under the provisions of SB 201, he was quite certain he wanted local government officials “who are the most knowledgeable with respect to local planning” to handle development and resource issues.

Those who are incarcerated in this State have few rights remaining to them, and are among the least powerful of all Nevada residents. AB 473 which called for requiring the Department of Corrections to adopt regulations concerning medical emergencies and the medical and dental services to be provided to prisoners, got the Veto Whack. Why? Because the Board of Prison Commissioners is “authorized to promulgate any necessary regulations to carry on the business of the Department of Corrections.” So, if the Board doesn’t think it’s necessary to inventory equipment at the prisons, or to do anything other than “establish standards for personal hygiene of offenders” beyond what is currently being done; then that is perfectly OK with the Governor. 

The most publicized of all the Governor’s vetoes to date is that sent back with SB 283. The Governor adopted the hard-right Christianist perspective that the domestic partnership bill was an end run on “marriage,” and partners could expend their hard earned dollars on setting up various and sundry contracts to “get their rights.” Perhaps the most patronizing section of the veto message came when the Governor tried to assert that he really really was a ‘friend of the gay community’ because he’d signed a non-discrimination bill (SB 207).  While this particular veto stands apart from the others in terms of civil and personal rights, it does follow the general pattern in the Governor’s vetos that the empowered will prevail over minority groups in Gibbons’ state (of mind).

The Governor’s veto of SB 319, requiring health care facilities to report Sentinel Events, further illustrates Gibbons’ predilection for protecting the health care corporations at the expense of private citizens. In Gibbon’s terms, the powerful health care industry should not be subject to “mischief from those who would seek to profit from the misfortunes of others by identifying events that could become the basis of litigation.” It’s OK for the corporations to report these Sentinel Events, but not OK to publicize them. In other words, a person harmed would have to know how to get the data from the Department of Health and Human Services, and then actually procure the information. Heaven forbid the hospital corporations should be held publicly accountable?

The veto of SB 394 returns to the No New Taxes Pledge. Off road vehicle dealers in Nevada have known for years that because the state doesn’t require registration people were going out of state to buy the products. Oregon, for example, has no sales tax, therefore a person in northern Nevada could travel across the state line, purchase a four wheeler and haul it back with no fees attached. Owners have known for years that unregistered vehicles are a dicey proposition. However, even though many owners and most dealers wanted a registration system, the Governor’s No Taxes Pledge took precedence. Like the Washoe County voters who couldn’t be trusted when they sought to raise their own taxes, off road vehicle dealers couldn’t be trusted to know what was in their best interests.

As the remainder of the bills enacted and sent to the Governor await disposition, it is readily apparent, and has been so since the 2007 veto of AB 396, that those bills limiting the power of the powerful – or, even holding them accountable will be almost certain candidates for the Governor’s Veto Pen. And, any increase in any fee no matter how necessary, no matter how small, no matter how desireable will be vetoed even if the increase is ‘potential.’ And, there will be “no new taxes” which in these times really means we will be getting fewer public services.

But, that’s what the Gibbons’ philosophy is all about. Reduce government services and the protections of government (from the powerful elites and the established authorities) and people will complain about taxes paid for little or no service. The more they complain, the less willing they will be to pay. When they are unwilling to pay anything, then the Have’s Have Won. After all, in Gibbons’ world the role of government is to protect the powerful not serve the public.

cross posted to Blue Sage Views

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